SGU Episode 558

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SGU Episode 558
March 19th 2016
Fennec Fox.jpg
SGU 557 SGU 559
Skeptical Rogues
S: Steven Novella
B: Bob Novella
J: Jay Novella
C: Cara Santa Maria
BH: Bruce Hood
Quote of the Week
Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Science is the highest personification of the nation because that nation will remain the first which carries the furthest the works of thought and intelligence.
Louis Pasteur
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Show Notes
Forum Topic


You're listening to the Skeptics' Guide to the Universe, your escape to reality.

Alpha Go Update (0:53)[edit]

Forgotten Superheroes of Science (6:07)[edit]

  • Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose

S: Okay, Bob, tell us about this week's Forgotten Superhero of Science.

B: Yes, this week, I'm going to talk about Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, 1858 to 1937. Bose was many things: A polymath, physicist, biologist, biophysicist, archaeologist, and even an early sci-fi writer. Very cool guy. He was also one of the most prominent early Indian scientists, and also, one of the fathers of radio science. And I had never heard of him! Bose ...

S: Yeah, but this has nothing to do with the Bose that makes razors.

B: No, no, no.

S: That makes speakers.

B: I already knew that. Of course, it would have come up.

S: Yeah

B: So, Bose earned multiple degrees from Cambridge and the University of London in the 1880's. When he returned to India, the Presidency College in Calcutta appointed him professor of physics, which was quite prestigious. And this despite protests by the college administration. They were not happy that this guy just comes back, and he gets this position.

So they were kind of jerks to him. The administration made sure he did not have a lab, and also that he was paid one half to one third the salary he should have gotten. That was really a huge slap in the face. And he was pretty cool about it. He basically did not accept payment for three years. He refused to be paid. And then after three years, somebody came to their senses and said, “All right, this is silly.” And they paid him all his back pay at the salary that he should have been getting. So that was kinda cool.

But Bose was a bona fide pioneer in biophysics. He was the first to note the similarities between plant and animals based on their reactions to external stimuli. So he was kind of ahead of the curve in spotting this parallelism between animals and plant physiology. That was a big coup for him.

But also, when you think of wireless radio communications though, who do you think of? You think of Marconni, you think of Tesla, but not Bose. Yet, he was certainly in the mix in the late 1800's. He had invaluable insights and inventions, so much so that the I-tripoli recently named him one of the fathers of radio science. I mean, they wouldn't just do that on a whim. This guy made some pretty important contributions.

And there are some people that (although I tend to disagree) that were saying that he was first. He totally beat out Marconni and Tesla, and it's kind of controversial. And it seems like he wasn't quite first on some of those big things, but he had major contributions.

S: Seems like there's always that controversy about who was first.

B: Yeah, from what I would gather, in terms of just radio transmission, Tesla actually invented it first, but he just designed it, whereas Marconni kind of built it. So, definitely, Tesla

S: Yeah

B: deserves some major kudos there. But Bose is right in there. He was the first to discover millimeter-length electromagnetic waves. This was actually a very key insight, because he realized that the closer the size of the radiation, the frequency of the radiation came to optical light, the more it behaved like optics in terms of reflection and things like that. So he was one of the first to examine electromagnetic waves at that size.

And he also invented which are now commonplace things like microwave components. He was the first to use a semi-conductor junction to detect radio waves. Some people credit him with being the first to invent a wireless detection device, although it seems like he wasn't the first, although he was definitely among the first, and it was with just a span of a few years really, I think. And regardless, if he was first or not, his inventions certainly contributed to the later development of solid state physics.

And then there's a quote from Sir Neville Maht, Nobel Laureate in 1977, he won the Nobel for his own contributions to solid state electronics. He said, “JC Bose was at least sixty years ahead of his time. In fact, he had anticipated the existence of P-type and N-type semi-conductors,” which is huge.

But one reason why I think Bose is obscure, actually it's because, I think, partly at least, because of his very known refusal to patent any of his inventions. I think he patented one of his many, many devices, and that's 'cause his buddies kind of forced him to do it. But he refused as a general principle to patent anything, because he thought that his ideas and inventions should be free for everyone to use,

J: Wow

B: and capitalize on, which is something you don't see very often these days. So that was kind of a very honorable attribute, and a little frustrating, because he would probably be more remembered today, and he could have made a boatload of money too as well. But I think it's still an amazing thing that he did.

So, remember Sir Jagadish Chandra Bose, mention him to your friends, perhaps when discussing Hertzian waves and imperfect junction coherers.

S: Cool. Yeah yeah, I love scientists who were polymaths, right, who did everything.

B: Yeah, oh my god!

S: There's something just, to me that's very compelling.

B: Yeah, and I pared that list down. There was a couple more things he did. I thought, “Ah, that's too much, man. I don't want to read all that stuff.” But yeah, the guy was incredible.

C: Do you think that it was easier to be a polymath a long time ago?

S: Probably. Yeah, I think that's true.

C: I always wondered that. Like, we know

B: Yeah, that's a good point.

C: a lot, now, that we didn't know before. And so the level of technical proficiency that you need to be good at one thing is extreme.

S: It's hard to contribute to a field unless you really

B: Yeah

S: dedicate a lot of time and effort.

B: Absolutely, absolutely. And, like I said, this guy, a lot of people at that time – there's even a couple other guys that were contributing heavily to wireless radio transmissions and detections. It was time. It was time because you had Hertz, you had Maxwell, electromagnetic waves and radio waves were theorized and discovered, and people were just clamoring to take advantage of this new – I mean, god, imagine an, “Oh wow! Look at this! Electromagnetic waves; what can we do with that? It's just

S: Yeah yeah.

B: a magnificently huge industry.

News Items[edit]

AI Assistant (12:29)[edit]

Cryotherapy (19:23)[edit]

Who's That Noisy (36:16)[edit]

  • Answer to last week: The Sun

What's the Word (40:46)[edit]

  • Sciolism

S: All right, Cara, what's the word?

C: The word today is sciolism. You guys like that? Sciolism

B: Yes.

S: Sciolism?

J: Sciolism!

C: It, again, doesn't sound how it looks like it should sound. 'Cause it looks like it should be skeeolism or sky-olism, 'cause it's S-C, but it's pronounced psyolism.

S: Like sky-ince.

C: Yes, like sky-ince, and they have the same root. It is a superficial show of knowledge or learning

B: Ooh!

C: or the practice of opinionating on subjects of which one only has superficial knowledge, often displayed as a

B: Oh!

C: pretentious showing of scholarship. A person displaying sciolism is a sciolist. Now this was submitted by Chris, from Orlando, Florida, a listener of the show. And he said, quote, “Also see David Avocado Wolf, Vanni Hari,

J: No way!

C: Deepak Chopra, Mike Adams, you get the idea.”

B: Oh my god, that's great. (Cara laughs) Great word. I'm so gonna use that.

C: Isn't it good?

B: Yep.

C: It's so, I feel like there's so many times in my life when I could have been like, “Ugh, what a sciolist.”

S: Yeah.

B: Yes.

S: Sciolistical bore.

C: Exactly! So here is the etymology of the word. It comes from the late Latin “sciolus,” which means “smatterer,” or pretender of knowledge. Its root is the Latin “scius,” meaning “knowing,” and that, itself comes from the verb siday - that's how I'm going to pronounce it – which means “to know.”

B: Yes

C: So when you think about that, it's spelled S-C-I-R-E-C-A. It's also the source of many other words, like science, prescience, conscience,

B: Science fiction!

C: also science fiction, (Bob laughs) which is just the word “science” and then the word “fiction.” And guys, its first known usage was in the first decade of the seventeenth century, so it's quite an old word. We should bring it back. It's quite rare in literature, so I say we give it a resurgence.

Questions and Emails[edit]

Question #1: Valsalva Revisited (42:36)[edit]

The history of the use of the term 'Valsalva maneuver.'

Question #2: Non-Newtonian Fluids (49:40)[edit]

Proper definition

(Commercial at 52:14)

Interview with: Bruce Hood (53:50)[edit]

NECSS Announcement (1:06:18)[edit]

Science or Fiction (1:08:35)[edit]

Item #1: A new study identifies a spinal cord pathway that, when stimulated, essentially turns off pain conduction to the brain, reducing pain to imperceptible. Item #2: Scientists report that the Nheengatu native Amazonians indicate time of day by pointing to the location of the sun at that time, the first recorded instance of specific information being conveyed entirely by gesture in an auditory language. Item #3: Scientists report that they have completely reversed osteoporosis in mice through a single injection of stem cells.

Skeptical Quote of the Week (1:25:44)[edit]

'Science knows no country, because knowledge belongs to humanity, and is the torch which illuminates the world. Science is the highest personification of the nation because that nation will remain the first which carries the furthest the works of thought and intelligence.' - Louis Pasteur

S: The Skeptics' Guide to the Universe is produced by SGU Productions, dedicated to promoting science and critical thinking. For more information on this and other episodes, please visit our website at, where you will find the show notes as well as links to our blogs, videos, online forum, and other content. You can send us feedback or questions to Also, please consider supporting the SGU by visiting the store page on our website, where you will find merchandise, premium content, and subscription information. Our listeners are what make SGU possible.


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